There are many videos on YouTube that teach you how to program. If you search "HTML/JavaScript/Python/[insert any programming language here] tutorial" you will find them. Some of these tutorials culminate in a "final project" with a fully functioning app that does something fun or useful. If someone followed these tutorials, who would own the end product? This is assuming no files were downloaded but lines of code were copied from the screen. What if the person didn't follow the video exactly (either intentionally or unintentionally)?

Even without a license, the learner would be free to use the project for personal use, right? Could the resulting code be made public, for example published on GitHub?

TL;DR if you followed a YouTube video where the author teaches you how to make a computer program, and you followed the steps (including copying certain lines verbatim) can you share the resulting program that you typed?

  • Is the product of the code a "Scènes à faire" thing, like 10 ? "Hello World" 20 GOTO 10
    – Trish
    Oct 18, 2021 at 22:40
  • If you cook a pie using a recipe, who will own it?
    – Greendrake
    Oct 18, 2021 at 22:41
  • @Trish whether that program is fun may be debatable, but it's certainly not particularly useful.
    – phoog
    Oct 19, 2021 at 19:35
  • @Trish it's an example for most any form of BASIC. I first encountered that program around three years before the C64 was introduced. Also, it's an example of an infinite loop, not of recursion.
    – phoog
    Oct 19, 2021 at 20:35
  • 1
    @Greendrake the person who makes it. Though if you copy someone else's source code that's generally different. I say generally because I'm not sure if there's some kind of implied license since the obvious intent of the video is the source code is copied.
    – swandiving
    Oct 20, 2021 at 1:22

2 Answers 2


Copyright by its very nature protects works that involve some level of creative expression. For example, a recipe by itself is not copyrightable because it's a mere recital of steps to create a dish. However, creative expressions that involve a particular recipe is copyrightable.

Examples of creative expressions that involve a recipe:

  1. Compiling recipes and presenting them into a cookbook. The layout, photographs, comments, font selection, color scheme, and any creative expressions within the cookbook are copyrightable elements.
  2. Creating a youtube video of yourself creating the dish based on the recipe. This includes narratives, footage, music selection, and other creative expressions of the creator of the video.
  3. Selling the food you make from the recipe, however, is not a copyrightable act. There is nothing stopping you from opening a restaurant using a recipe you follow from YouTube.

I'm going to present a scenario where following the tutorial might actually be infringing on a copyright: suppose you are following a tutorial made by a famous art forger by the name of Neal Caffrey, and you just created a perfect replica of a famous artist's painting that is known to be a registered, copyrighted art masterpiece.

If you use it to learn the artist's art style, and use it merely for your personal educational benefit, you still technically infringe the artist's copyright. However, you can raise the fair use defense and have a good chance of winning a copyright infringement suit.

On the other hand, if you use the tutorial to create de facto forgeries of the art piece, and sell it on the black market, not only are you committing copyright infringement, but you are also committing potential fraud by selling an imitation of someone else's work of art.

Extreme examples aside, just look at what are you planning to do with the tutorial code. Review the license carefully. Most professionally made tutorial code base have clear cut licensing terms, and as long as you're not literally copy pasting the code for commercial use, you should be fine.

Ethically and professionally speaking, it is always best to create your own implementation of a given code, applying what you learned from the other code. In my experience, writing your own code actually will not only make you a better programmer, but you might discover unintentional errors or limitations that you would not otherwise discovered had you not written the code yourself.

  • Review what license carefully? Individual videos don't have one.
    – swandiving
    Oct 19, 2021 at 4:44
  • 1
    The individual videos won't have a license but the code might. Most of the codes will be linked to github. Checking there, you can see if they have a license or not. Most do not.
    – o2h2o
    Oct 19, 2021 at 5:17
  • 2
    Suppose the tutorial walks the student through creating an application, and in so doing it dictates the code, and further suppose that there is no license for the code. Is the student "free to use the project for personal use?" "Could the resulting code be made public, for example published on Github?"
    – phoog
    Oct 19, 2021 at 19:39
  • Well as long as your not selling it commercially you will probably be fine. Note, most youtube tutorials already have the files needed posted on github for the user.
    – o2h2o
    Oct 19, 2021 at 22:50
  • What @phoog said is what I meant to ask
    – swandiving
    Oct 20, 2021 at 1:10

If the instruction relates to code that had never manifested in any tangible form and is not a derivative work of art of any other work of art, the first to create it would be the copyright owner. However, once it is video recorded, a work of art is created and depending on the complexity of the code explained and the level of abstraction used in the instructions, it may permit for protection for derivative works based on the instructions in the video.

However, recreating the code instructed may still be permitted for educational purposes as fair use where such exceptions apply.

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .